RAWALPINDI: When building the new Islamabad International Airport (IIA) in Islamabad, the authorities installed a sophisticated network of cameras and other surveillance equipment. The idea was to catch criminals attempting to use the facility as a transit station. But the dragnet of the system has also managed to pick up on something else.
Closed circuit television cameras (CCTV) at the IIA have lifted the veil on the performance — or rather the mal-performance of officials. It has now prompted authorities to build a vigilance cell.
The IIA, completed at a cost of around Rs105 billion over 10 years, was the country’s first ever green-field airport and was equipped with expensive monitoring systems. The interior ministry had even setup joint checking counters for all security departments and organisations to ensure stringent checking to curtail smuggling.
However, cameras installed at the airport have disclosed that duty officers are not serving their true purpose and instead a number of incidents were seen where officials were allegedly collecting bribes from incoming and outgoing passengers to allow them to pass through the gates of the airport unchecked.
The videos of officials taking bribes have irked higher officials after which all the related departments, as well as intelligence agencies, have launched investigations into catching the culprits responsible for such activities.
Some of these investigations showed that the extent of bribery extended even to porters, who worked under the supervision of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
One video captured the dishonest attitude of a customs official where he could be seen intercepting a woman passenger and taking her from the joint checking counter to the CAA staff allegedly for getting her luggage cleared without any inspection. The woman passenger then allegedly offered money, apparently balled up in her fist, to a uniformed official of Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF).
The officer, though, signalled her to hand over the money to the customs official. She continued on her journey after complying.
An investigation officer, who did not wish to disclose his name because he was still involved in the investigations, told Daily Express that they were investigating each individual who had been spotted in the suspicious videos.
He further disclosed that not only customs officials, but private porters and different protocol officials, who come to the dry port, were also involved in executing similar practices.
The investigator further said that they were also probing into the practice of deploying the same custom personnel at certain points instead of varied postings.
So far, he said that their investigations have led to the removal of six customs officials from their posts including Chaudhry Shaukat, Taib Zaman, Ilyas Hussain Shah, Ishtiaq Ahmed, Muhammad Iqbal and a dog handler Rajab Hussain.
Asked about the alleged involvement of private porters, a CAA spokesperson said that they have always launched an inquiry when a complaint against any of the porters was received.
Meanwhile, in light of the videos relating corrupt practices at the airport, the authorities have decided to set up an eight-member vigilance cell to monitor these practices.
Deputy Collector Sadia Usman at the Customs Collector Islamabad Headquarters has issued an office-wide order for the establishment of the vigilance cell.
The cell will be headed by Customs Superintendent Raja Jamil Akhtar and Air Freight Unit (AFU) Superintendent Rashid Saeed. The cell will also include AFU Operating Officer Azeem Manzoor, Preventive Inspector Munir Afzal, AFU Import Inspector Aijaz Ahmed, Investigation and Inspection (IP) Inspector Ghulam Jafar.
The cell has been tasked with collecting information about smuggling of dutiable and taxable items while it will also maintain communications with field and senior officials to curtail smuggling from the airport.
Similarly, consignments from any of the defaulters will be thoroughly inspected.
The cell will convey all information to the deputy collector customs headquarters Islamabad in normal conditions as well, while it will also carry out special tasks assigned to them by collector customs headquarters.
The airport, which is a major international port for arrival and departure in the entire northern part of the country has become a hotbed of smuggling activities. Whether they are passengers attempting to smuggle drugs such as hashish, heroin and even crystal methamphetamines out of the country to foreigners attempting to smuggle contraband such as cellphones into the country.
Before the cell was formed, however, the surveillance set up at the airport saw a Federal Investigations Agency (FIA) immigration officer removed after he allegedly slapped a passenger after the two had exchanged harsh words.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 1st, 2019.